Students and faculty all across the country dusted off their bikes and put on their helmets for the first annual National Bike to School Day on May 9th, 2012. National Bike to School Day, a day which promotes student-powered transportation, has empowered thousands of students across the country to go green—while having fun—on the way to school. These students, along with the teachers and parents who opted to ride with them, registered more than 700 Bike to School Day events in 49 states and the District of Colombia according to WalkBiketoSchool.org, a website created by the Federal Highway Administration’s National Center for Safe Routes to School, the official sponsor of National Bike to School Day. With such a large number of students and schools all across the country who participated in National Bike to School Day, one could look almost anywhere to learn more about biking to school, but need look no further than Normal, Illinois.
Normal Community High School, located in Normal, Illinois, has created the city’s first “Bike to School” high school club. The idea for the club was sparked by the curiosity and drive of a few students who learned about the World Bicycle Relief through an AP Human Geography class taught by NCHS Social Studies Chair Kevin Suess. The students learned that in some parts of the world, cars are rare commodities and people must find other means of transportation. That is where bikes come in. Many people know about the benefits of biking regularly: the decrease in carbon-emissions into the atmosphere, the great cardiovascular exercise, and the money saved by not buying gas. However, when most students hear information such as this, they tend to ignore it. But not all students are Jensen Roll and Spencer Smith.
Known as the forerunners of the NCHS Bike2School movement, Roll and Smith have done a substantial amount of work to get their cause known. Through the use of social media, talking with friends, and daily morning announcements at their high school, these two (along with many others) have gotten the word out about biking to school and its benefits. The group’s Facebook page, Bike2School, has already accumulated over 100 followers, as has its Twitter page, and the numbers are still growing. As of May 2012, Bike2School has managed to get an average of twenty daily commuters to the school, a number that is increasing every week. In order to encourage biking for students who are not able to bike to school every day, the group has also chosen the Wednesday of each week as a common day of commute. The group used these means of communication to spread the word about the first annual National Bike to School Day. However, no one anticipated what was to come from the simple creation of the Facebook event, “National Ride Your Bike to School Day.”
Eventually Mayor Chris Koos of the town of Normal found out about the event and told the Bike2School group that if they were to get at least 100 people to RSVP to the event, he would not only send a police escort to safely guide the bikers to the school, but he would also ride with them. It was little time after that that over 100 people RSVP’d to the event and the police escort was official. People were waiting for May 9th to come; they were waiting to make history.
After everyone arrived at the school Koos made an important announcement. He mentioned that both he and the city had heard about the effort and progress that Bike2School has made, and the city plans on continuing the Constitution Trail to Normal Community. The students were ecstatic. If there was to be a sidewalk built to the school, it would make the morning commutes so much safer and easier. Though plans have not been finalized, many people are looking forward to biking to school next year. However, biking is not only to be found at Normal Community High School. In fact, efforts have been made across Bloomington-Normal to promote more (and safer) biking. In the April 23rd Bloomington City Council meeting, there was talk of a proposal to place a bike lane on Main Street (for more information, view Corey Mattson’s article entitled, “Bicycle Movement Gains Traction”) and there is also the GLT Good To Go Commuter Challenge from May 12th until the 18th, also known as “bike to work week” where commuters can win prizes for promoting a healthy and green lifestyle.
With all of press that has been generated about the first annual National Bike to School Day, it is certain that this annual tradition will carry on for years to come, and will hopefully attract many more prospective bikers. For more information about National Bike to School Day, visit <http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/> and for more information about the GLT Good to Go Commuter Challenge, visit <http://www.gltgoodtogo.com/>.